‘I was Super-Master at the Lane Theatre when the “Stage Children’s Act” was passed. I had to make it up a bit, for it was part iv me wurrk t’ engage the kids as well as the exthras, an’ it was a rare job that year, I can tell ye. Ould Gustavus had quarrelled the year before with Madam Laffan, the dancin’ misthress, iv Old Street, who used to take all the East-end childher, an’ Mrs Purefoy had made her fortune and retired, so there was no one west with a stock of trained kids. The Act, you remimber, was pushed through be the faddists, an’ became law before anyone could wink. Then the throuble began. The parents what usually kem beggin’ an’ prayin’ to have their kids took on began to trate even me haughty, an’ t’ ask for conthracts. They wanted double an’ tribble pay. They thought they had a right to sell their childher’s services, and that the new law couldn’t touch them. So ould Gustavus held off in turn, when, lo and behold! you -‘
‘He’s stealin’ my words too!’ murmured the Sewing Woman under her breath. She didn’t dare to speak out loud for fear of offending him. Murphy was a kindly creature, and often showed her small kindnesses.
‘- the beaks shut down on the whole thing, and wouldn’t allow any childher at all to be engaged. We was all at our wits’ end thin. We had for Pantomime that Christmas Cinderella. It was to be all done be childher, an’ the scenery an’ props an’ costumes was all made. As time wint on I began to get anxious. Childher want a lot of tachin’ an’ dhrillin’, and av ye have to take ’em in the raw ’tis no light job. There ginerally is a lot of such about, and in usual circumstances – unless you have lift it too late – there does be plinty of the wans that have been on before, and have only to be freshened up and taught the business iv the new play. Av coorse, every thayatre has its own lists of thim what comes to be re-engaged – I think it only just to say that I’m not the only first-class Super-Master in the business! So by-an’-by, whin the Governor asked me how many kids I had engaged, I had to say to him:
‘”Sorra a wan! Don’t you remimber ye towld me not to engage a bally one – an’ bally ind to me!” Ould Gustavus was a man what niver got angry or swore or stamped about like some; but he had the nasty tongue on him that was a dale sight worse. So, sez he:
‘”Oh, indade! Then, Mr Murphy, let me point out this to ye. If I’ve no supers an’ no extras an’ no childher, I don’t seem to know that I have any use for a Super-Master – you undhershtand?”
‘”I do!” sez I, an’ wint out fit to hould. Whin I was shmokin’ outside the stage-door, the call-boy kem yellin’ out:
‘”Ye’re wanted be the Guvernor, Murphy, at wanst.”
‘Whin I kem in he says to me quite gintly – so gintly that I began to suspect he was up to some devilment:
‘”Be the way, Murphy, in makin’ any engagements, I want ye to put in yer own name as employer. It may be a good thing, ye know, for ye personally, an’ ’twill make no differ to me.”
‘While he was shpakin’ I seen at a glance what he was up to – I think that quick. “Oh-ho!” sez I to meself, “that’s the game, is it? ‘Tis to be me what employs them! An’ thin, whin the polis does be comin’ along undher the new Act, ’tis the employer that has to be run in!…”
‘”May I have some forrms, surr?” I sez.
‘”Certainly – as many as ye like. Take this ordher to Miles’s an’ get them to print ye a set.” While he was shpakin’, he tore out a forrm from th’ ordher book, and handed it to me wid a conthract forrm which he had althered. “Tell them to print it like that – I have althered the name.”
‘”Thin, surr,” I sez, “’tis me as employs them. I suppose I can do what I like in that way?”
‘”Certainly, certainly,” he sez. “You have a free hand in the matter. I shall make a contract with you when I want them.”
‘”An’ their pay, sir?” I sez.
‘”Oh, that is all right. You don’t have to pay thim till work begins, ye know.”
‘”That’s thrue!” sez I, an’ wid that I wint out.
I got me forrms from the printer next day – hundhreds, thousands iv them – an’ set to worrk. I had a game av me own on, an’ I tuk not a sowl in me confidence. I knew ’twas no use gettin’ childher at all, for whin the time’d come, the magisthrates wouldn’t let thim wurrk at all, at all. So I luk’d round an’ picked out all the small young weemen I could find that was nice an’ shlim.
‘My! but wasn’t there a lot iv them. I had no idea that London was so full iv shlim young undher-sized weemen. I suppose I used to like big girrls best, and plazed me eye whin I selected them. But there was I now engagin’ the shmall wans be the score, be the hundhred, an’ just whisperin’ a word to aich iv thim to hould their tongues about their engagement, lest others’d crowd in an’ kape thim out.
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